During the late
1950s I worked for Adastra two, or was it three times, alternating
with two spells at Butler Air Transport. The precise chronology
of those years is now very hazy but I remember that I had an interview
for a job as field engineer with Eric Haynes at Hangar 15 and jumped
over a fence and walked over green grass to get there. This would
be about where the Qantas check-in desks are now. The Catalina was
in the Hangar which puts the time at the end of 1956.
I first flew with Joe and Josie Linfoot, Bob Wilson as navigator
and Harold Corrigan to Canberra. We stayed at Queanbeyan and the
road to the airport was still dirt and we carried a foldup motor
scooter for me to use to be independent of the aircrew. Not the
best vehicle for the dirt road. We were there only a short time
as Bob was leaving to fly helicopters in New Guinea, some of the
first in this part of the world and a short time later, a couple
of years or so, he was the boss. Those pilots and engineers who
got in early on choppers did very well for themselves.
Another trip with Joe Linfoot and Graham Holstock as navigator was
to Cairns and Horn Island and Port Moresby. On the way up we picked
up a friend of Joe's who bought a Holden FJ and used it for transport
for the crew for five weeks, drove it back to Tamworth and sold
it, the proceeds of which paid for his holiday. Thems was the days!!
While there we overnighted at Mitchell River Mission and camped
in bamboo huts by a billabong with an alleged crocodile inhabitant.
While there, the Aborigines put on a bit of a corroboree for us
and the picture
of the kids near the Hudson must have been taken there. We also
overnighted at Wrotham Park Station homestead which, if my failing
memory serves me right, was owned by Sir Lawrence Wackett who had
three daughters, one of whom was married to an Ansett captain and
the youngest who was paralysed down one side and had just returned
from a two week picnic along the Mitchell River in a three ton truck
which she had driven all the way!
At Horn Island there was no accommodation so we stayed at a pub
on Thursday Island and traveled to Horn by ferry every flying day.
Notable at Thursday Island was the old fort on top of the hill behind
the hospital, built to repel the Russians in the 1800s with three
cannon still there, the pearling luggers and watching the locals
spear garfish from the wharf at night. I couldn't see any fish but
On to Port Moresby where we stayed at the Boroka Hotel, on the way
to the airport at Jackson's Field. Qantas had a nose hangar for
their DC-4 daily service and the local charter company used Ansons
to ferry building materials and everything else around the country.
The story was that they only managed to get airborne because of
the curvature of the earth and you could almost believe this was
true. Jackson's had not changed much since the war and neither had
Moresby. Grass skirts were very much in evidence and the Ela beach
market was an exotic scene and smell!
Qantas was still using Catalinas here and I think at the time the
Hudsons were the fastest civil aircraft in service in Australia
or the second fastest. I left the crew here to go to England for
a few months where my mother was very ill. When I returned a few
months later, I joined Adastra again and went to Canberra with a
Hudson, don't know which one, with Neil McInnes as pilot and Maurie
O'Donnell as camera operator and maybe Hal McKinley navigating,
not sure of that. Neil had been crop dusting, and still was a cropduster
at heart. What was he doing flying at 25,000ft? I was told he was
inclined to get down low after photography and look for brigalow
scrub to cropdust! Maurie had been an ambulance driver and I think
was trying to get some money to get married to his girl friend "Blossom".
He was known for his laconic descriptions of horrific accidents
he had attended and was sometimes known as "Dr Death". We were only
there about three weeks before recall to Sydney.
The next trip I remember was to North Queensland and Port Moresby
with a Hudson piloted by Jack Howard and I think Elmo Phipps as
camera operator. Somewhere along the line Jack had his wife and
kids along staying in a friend's house. Jack was always looking
for something to do when he had no Adastra business so he volunteered
to do our laundry. Thanks Jack! It all came back washed and neatly
ironed. In Lae we stayed at the Mandated Airlines mess and had good
rapport with them. Dick Glassey was flying for them, a previous
Adastra pilot, and I remember you could always tell when he went
past the mess as his jeep had a distinctive rattle in the gearbox.
Jack, in his usual way, volunteered to cut the chief pilot's lawn
one day. Early in the morning, the chief pilot's neigbour was surprised
to see Jack striding up and down his lawn mowing and wasn't about
to stop him. When Jack was told of his mistake he went and mowed
the correct lawn. We had employed a local to clean the aircraft
for us and given him a tin of polish and a quick demo of how to
put the polish on. Nobody had thought to demo rubbing the polish
off, so he left it on! He had faithfully followed the instructions
My last trip with Hudsons was to Lae for about five and a half months
with Allan Motteram, Pat Murphy and Gordon Murrell. Allan had brought
his wife and two youngest children along and I remember that flying
from Moresby to Lae we had to climb to 15,000 feet over the Owen
Stanley Mountains. The kids were quite lively and active till we
got over 10,000 feet when they were sitting very still and breathless.
The little girl needed a whiff of oxygen as she was the most affected,
but as we descended they got livelier and livelier till we landed.
Alan and Desiree had the use of a house and Pat, Gordon and I lived
at the MAL mess. With the usual New Guinea weather, there were hardly
any days suitable to even try photography, so not much flying was
done, sometimes just a circuit or two to exercise the pilot and
aircraft. One day Allan decided to check the stall characteristics
of the aircraft and I was with them. The stall when it comes is
very sharp and vicious and one wing will drop quickly loosing quite
a bit of altitude. With not much work to do, I built model aircraft
and bought a motorbike to play with. One day Pat borrowed a VW combi
van and drove us up to Wau and Goroka on the new road that had just
opened. Up until then you had to go by air or walk. The last of,
I think, five gold dredges was still operating at the end of about
25 miles of mullock heaps which had ruined the river valley. Wau
airstrip is steeply uphill and you can only land up hill and take
off down hill, no chance of a go-around. DC-3's had to maintain
30 inches manifold pressure to get to the terminal at the top after
landing, and turn 90 degrees across the hill to park. On the way
back, we saw a native boy paddling down the rough water of the river
on a raft made of banana logs, happily paddling along as the raft
disintegrated under him!
That trip came to an untimely end with the tragic crash of the aircraft
at Lae. With only one engine operating and caught in the turbulence
over the end of the strip, they had no hope of recovery. I am told
that the daily DC-4 that landed soon after had to maintain 30 inches
manifold pressure on all four engines on approach to make it on
to the strip that morning. In the five and a half months we were
there I think only one flight produced photographs and they were
no good, so that trip was expensive for Adastra, losing a crew and
aircraft and nothing to show for it.
No more Hudsons for me after that so I took over Alan Cattanach's
place on the Catalina and my first trip was to Tassie with Bob Love
and Bruce Sellick(?), Joe Tidey navigating and with Maurie Miller,
Les Snape and Ted Roberts technicians, based at Cambridge Airport
Hobart. Bob's description of flying the Cat was "90% boredom and
10% terror". I went on a flight one day when we were redoing
a small area up and down a hillside. The Cat needed full power to
get to the top and then turn and slide down hill at reduced power
to maintain a constant height above terrain. I was drafted to write
frame numbers on the trace and because it was rough I could hardly
keep the pen on the paper and felt very sick but managed to keep
it till we had finished, then made a dash for the bucket! The only
time I have been actually air or sea sick.
After that trip we went (I think with Ken Rowlands) to Cobar, which
was almost a ghost town at the time but sometime after our survey
the mine was reopened for a few more years. There were two schools
of thought among the locals who came out to the airfield to see
us land. One thought we had been blown off course from the coast
and the other was that we were going to land on a local dam or lake.
I think it was there we had to refuel from drums.
Next trip was to Queensland with Ken Rowlands and Bruce Sellick,
Kevin Pavlich navigator and an American technician John Smunk, Maurie
(Miller) and Les (Snape). St George was as hot as any place I had
been to and after dinner in the evenings we would sit on the veranda
and watch the fruit bats fly off along the river to their nightly
feast. A continuous stream of them for about 20 minutes. This trip
I started to learn chess at which John was a master, preferring
to get to the end game as soon as possible and then wipe you off
the board with ease. I don't think I won a game for six months.
We spent some time at Roma, Charleville and Longreach after that.
At Roma we set up the ground magnetometer in a vineyard where the
power supply was reasonably constant. The Sherry they made there
had a distinctive almond flavour and later I was able to buy some
in Sydney. At Charleville we had to get out to fly about dawn because
of turbulence and very often the Cat would return before 7 o'clock,
too early for breakfast, so we would play a few holes of golf at
the local course first. I'm left-handed and had to play with right-handed
clubs which made me concentrate more, so I had good direction but
not much length to my strokes. You could lose your ball on the fairway
as the weeds and grass were over two inches high. One day, a church
about 100 yards away on the other side of the street from the hotel
caught fire and burnt to the ground in about an hour. The heat was
so intense we could feel it on the veranda of the hotel.
At Longreach we stayed in a cheap hotel which was about to be renovated
or pulled down so there was only one threadbare blanket for each
bed and it was COLD at night so we had to spread all our clothes
on the bed to keep warm. By midday the temperature was close to
40 degrees Celsius. In those days the only tourist attractions were
the 150ft high water tower and shops in the main street, all selling
everything from pins to an elephant, so to speak.
On the way back to Sydney we had to redo a few bits of earlier surveys
flying 6 hours a day and overnighting at Borroloola which consisted
of a hotel, a "café" and a couple or so houses. The airport was
a dirt strip with a windsock set in a circle of stones. Sand, stones
and salt bush as far as the eye could see. From the air, Western
Queensland was patches of different colour brown, some with a greenish
tinge, ideal for navigation - not!
My last trip was to Cairns and Horn Island with the DC-3 with a
bird in tow and mapping the reef I think, with Jack Howard, Bruce
and Pat Gregory, and Les Snape as I remember. We overnighted, or
was it a weekend, at Mackay in company with a Hudson and Anson,
one of the rare, if not only times, three Adastra aircraft were
at the same place in the field at the same time. Must have been
a party for sure but the only thing that sticks in my memory is
that Wally challenged me to a game of chess, saying he had only
just started playing and I had been playing, and losing, for six
months. He beat me in five moves with "Fools Check" which I had
never heard of. How mortifying!!
In Cairns, Jack had terrible trouble with head aches while flying
and some times had to hand over to Bruce to land, which Jack liked
to do himself. The doctors couldn't find anything wrong with all
sorts of tests including Cat scans so Jack tried a Chiropractor
on someone's advice and after three or so visits he had no more
trouble. One night we went down town to have a look at the new model
Ford car just coming on the market - the "Falcon". Remember them?
On previous visits to Horn Island, crews had mainly stayed at Thursday
Island but this time we stayed on Horn. Bruce and Pat with the groundsman
at his house and the rest in the passenger lounge. I mentally marked
out a tree on the side of the runway suitable for a block and tackle
in case we had to change an engine. This tree had been used before
as there was evidence, old Junkers engines, around the bottom of
it, so it must have been suitable.
We got a message from Jack Mac to try and salvage the aileron balance
weights from the wreck of AGO so we all went down to the beach and
to get to the wreck we had to cross the mouth of a little creek.
Pat stayed at the creek and, I think, Les to do some fishing. On
the way back we were shown the fishing catch from the other side
of the creek, a small shark about two feet long and another fearsome
looking one about the same size. We all just about ran on water
to get back over the creek!! If there were little ones there, maybe
there were big ones!
The locals living on Horn used to fish for dinner using 100 pound
line, no sportfishing here, we want to eat! They also used spears
with fencing wire tips, about six to a spear and would get three
or four fish at a time from the swarms of pilchards near the jetty.
I have seen a shark swim on the surface through the jetty piles
after pilchards too. Occasionally you could see crocs on the beach
in the distance, unless they were logs that moved.
It rained for a couple of days and the bare stony ground was soon
green with weeds and there were little black mosquitoes that used
to get inside the mosquito nets we slept under, there would be a
couple of dozen of them with you in the morning. Jack, being Jack,
had to be doing something when not flying so started making oil
draining buckets by cutting four gallon drums in half, cutting and
bending the cut edge to make it neat and fitting a handle of No.
8 fencing wire. He made lots and gave them to all and sundry. I
had one for years after in my garage.
By this time I was married and wanting to start a family, so left
Adastra and started work at Bankstown on light aircraft. Whoever
coined the phrase "the romance of aviation" must have had companies
like Adastra in mind.